Sr. Bette Ann Jaster says the governor must make public the results of a risk assessment for a fracked-gas pipeline that runs by Indian Point. Video by Nancy Cutler/lohud Wochit
WASHINGTON — President Trump announced on Sunday that Dan Coats will step down as the director of national intelligence after a tenure in which the two were often at odds over Russia, North Korea and the president’s own attacks on the intelligence community.
“I am pleased to announce that highly respected Congressman John Ratcliffe of Texas will be nominated by me to be the Director of National Intelligence,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves. Dan Coats, the current Director, will be leaving office on August 15th. I would like to thank Dan for his great service to our Country. The Acting Director will be named shortly.”
Mr. Ratcliffe has been a staunch defender of Mr. Trump. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, he sharply questioned Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel, at last week’s hearing.
Mr. Coats had long been expected to depart of his own accord, an administration official said, but he ended up staying on longer so it would not seem as if he was forced out during a time of conflict with Mr. Trump. In a meeting last week, Mr. Coats told Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that he was ready to move on.
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Mr. Coats, who helped devise President George W. Bush’s compassionate conservative agenda, had been an important link between the Trump administration and the Republican establishment. With Mr. Coats gone, those ties, at least on national security matters, are likely to weaken.
But Mr. Trump’s grip on the Republican Party has only strengthened, and he has long since demonstrated that members of the party’s establishment need his support far more than he needs theirs.
Mr. Trump’s frustration with Mr. Coats was reignited in recent months, during spring weekends spent at his private club in Palm Beach, Fla., according to people who spoke with him at the time.
Mr. Trump had weighed firing Mr. Coats since he took issue with the president’s assertions, after a 2018 meeting in Finland with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, that challenged the intelligence community’s conclusions that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential race. Mr. Coats also questioned the wisdom of a potential White House meeting between the two leaders.
Some of the president’s political advisers had encouraged him to oust Mr. Coats, but he had been shielded by Mr. Pence, a longtime protégé. Mr. Coats served as a senator from Indiana, and Mr. Pence was the state’s governor.
His pending departure has been whispered about in Washington for weeks, and Axios first reported on Sunday that Mr. Ratcliffe was the favorite to replace him. The New York Times then reported that Mr. Coats’s resignation was imminent.
Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, favored Mr. Ratcliffe as a replacement for Mr. Coats, as did several of Mr. Trump’s more conservative allies, according to administration officials. However, others in Mr. Trump’s group of advisers were skeptical that Mr. Ratcliffe was the right choice. Mr. Ratcliffe’s name has periodically been floated for attorney general, a job he is said to prefer over the intelligence director post, but one unlikely to be available anytime soon.
In picking Mr. Ratcliffe, the president tapped a lawmaker who, unlike Mr. Coats, has come to his defense against the investigation into Russia’s efforts to aid Mr. Trump’s campaign in 2016.
Mr. Ratcliffe met privately with Mr. Trump at the White House on July 19, according to administration officials, to discuss whether he would take the job. Less than a week later, Mr. Ratcliffe accused Mr. Mueller of not following Justice Department guidelines when the special counsel said he could not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice. If a special counsel cannot bring charges, he should not presume to say a target was not cleared, Mr. Ratcliffe said.
“So Americans need to know this as they listen to the Democrats and socialists on the other side of the aisle as they do dramatic readings from this report that Volume II of this report was not authorized under the law to be written,” Mr. Ratcliffe said of the portion of Mr. Mueller’s report that described how the president sought to impede the investigation.
“It was written to a legal standard that does not exist at the Justice Department, and it was written in violation of every D.O.J. principle about extra-prosecutorial commentary,” Mr. Ratcliffe added. “I agree with the chairman this morning when he said Donald Trump is not above the law. He’s not. But he damn sure shouldn’t be below the law, which is where Volume II of this report puts him.”
Critics disagreed with Mr. Ratcliffe’s conclusion, noting that department guidelines call for a special counsel to provide a report “explaining the prosecution or declination decisions” at the end of an investigation.
Before the Finland meeting, Mr. Coats had become increasingly vocal in defending the intelligence agencies and their assessment that the Kremlin has been pursuing a campaign of cyberattacks aimed at undermining American democracy. Though Mr. Coats has long held those views, he made a deliberate decision to emphasize the intelligence agencies’ findings before the summit, in what some saw as a challenge to the White House.
At a security conference in Aspen, Colo., soon after, Mr. Coats expressed surprise about reports that Mr. Trump could invite Mr. Putin to the White House. “That is going to be special,” he said in a notably unguarded moment.
Political aides to Mr. Trump seized upon the performance to suggest in private discussions that the intelligence chief was disloyal.
After the Aspen appearance, Mr. Coats adopted a lower profile, avoiding any comments that contradicted the president. But Mr. Coats has also tried to protect national security officers from Mr. Trump’s criticism.
In an indignant Twitter post, Mr. Trump wrote, “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”
The report, and Mr. Coats’s testimony before the Senate, said North Korea was unlikely to give up its nuclear stockpile, Iran was not immediately taking steps to build a nuclear weapon and the Islamic State was still capable of stoking violence in Syria — all facts at odds with Mr. Trump’s worldview.
In a speech to intelligence officers in January, Mr. Coats said it was their duty to seek the truth about the world. “And when we find that truth, to speak the truth,” he added.
With the departures from the administration at the end of 2018 of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Nikki Haley as ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Coats was one of the last establishment senior national security figures in the Trump administration.
But in recent months, Mr. Coats discovered that even as he tried to stick to factual assessments of national security threats, it was difficult to align himself with the president.
There was no greater point of friction between the men than Russia. Time after time, the White House has sought to weaken Mr. Coats’s language regarding the Kremlin.
Mr. Coats argued for a view of Russia as an adversary and pushed for closer cooperation and stronger ties with traditional American allies in Europe, nations that have been the focus of Mr. Trump’s ire as he sought closer relations with Moscow and wavered on whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
A secret report by Mr. Coats about Russian interference in the 2018 midterm elections contained a harsh assessment about Russia’s efforts to influence the American public by stoking conspiracy theories, inflame positions and polarizing the American population. But the public statement released by Mr. Coats’s office and edited by the White House contained little of the tough language.
Intelligence officials had expected a fall departure for Mr. Coats, perhaps soon after Labor Day. He was scheduled to speak at an annual intelligence conference in September, and some American officials said they expected him to depart soon after that. But Mr. Coats ultimately did not wait.
Mr. Ratcliffe, who served as mayor of Heath, Tex., and as a United States attorney, boasts on his website that he once “arrested 300 illegal aliens in a single day.” He was elected to the House in 2014, ousting Representative Ralph Hall, who at 91 was the oldest member of the House in history, in a Republican primary with the support of Tea Party activists.
Mr. Ratcliffe quickly established a reputation as a stalwart conservative. He has a 96 percent lifetime rating by the American Conservative Union and earned a 100 percent in the most recent ranking by Heritage Action for America.
Dr. James M. DorseyJuly 28, 2019
Medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles, image via US Missile Defense Agency
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,239, July 28, 2019
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Middle East is barreling toward a nuclear and ballistic missile arms race. That race is being aided and abetted by a US policy that views the region through the dual prism of the need to stop an aggressive, expansionary, and destabilizing Islamic Republic that seeks to dominate it, and the view of the region as a lucrative market for the US defense and nuclear industry.
US policy is not the only factor feeding the burgeoning nuclear and ballistic missile arms race in the Middle East. It is also being enabled by the inability or unwillingness of the other major powers – Europe, Russia, and China – to counter crippling US sanctions against Iran in ways that would ensure that Tehran maintains an interest in adhering to the 2015 international agreement that curbed its nuclear program despite last year’s US withdrawal from the deal.
With the Middle East teetering on the brink of a military confrontation, Iran has vowed to start breaching the agreement next month if the international community, and particularly Europe, fails to shield it from US sanctions.
Former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) deputy director general Olli Heinonen, a hardliner when it comes to Iran, asserted recently during a visit to Israel that Iran would need six to eight months to enrich uranium in the quantity and quality required to produce a nuclear bomb.
US and Chinese willingness to lower safeguards in their nuclear dealings with Saudi Arabia further fuels Iranian doubts about the value of the nuclear agreement and potentially opens the door to a nuclear arms race.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently visited Saudi Arabia and the UAE before joining President Trump for visits to India and South Korea and talks with world leaders at a G20 summit in Japan.
“We’ll be talking with them about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned, and how we can build out a global coalition, a coalition not only throughout the Gulf states, but in Asia and in Europe…to push back against the world’s largest state sponsor of terror,” Pompeo said as he departed Washington.
Trump detailed the prism through which he approaches the Middle East in a wide-ranging interview with NBC News. He deflected calls for an FBI investigation into last October’s murder by Saudi government agents of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
“Iran’s killed many, many people a day. Other countries in the Middle East ― this is a hostile place. This is a vicious, hostile place. If you’re going to look at Saudi Arabia, look at Iran, look at other countries,” Trump said, suggesting that crimes by one country provide license to others.
Asked whether Saudi arms buying was reason to let Saudi Arabia off the hook, Trump responded: “No, no. But I’m not like a fool that says, ‘We don’t want to do business with them.’ And by the way, if they don’t do business with us, you know what they do? They’ll do business with the Russians or with the Chinese.”
Trump and other senior US officials reiterated in recent days that they would not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.
Europe has so far unsuccessfully sought to put in place an effective mechanism that would allow European and potentially non-European companies that do business with Iran to circumvent US sanctions unscathed.
As the US prepared to announce new sanctions, Russia said it would help Iran with oil exports and its banking sector if the European mechanism fails to get off the ground. (It offered no details.)
While countering the sanctions is Iran’s immediate priority, Saudi moves to put in place the building blocks for a nuclear industry that could develop a military component and a ballistic missiles capability – moves that are occurring with the help of the Trump administration as well as China – are likely to increase Iranian skepticism about the nuclear accord’s value.
Trump’s argument that Russia and China would fill America’s shoes if the US refused to sell arms and technology to Saudi Arabia is not without merit, even if it fails to justify a lack of safeguards in the provision of nuclear technology to the kingdom.
In 2017, with the US refusing to share its most advanced drone technology, China opened its first overseas defense production facility in Saudi Arabia. State-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) is manufacturing its CH-4 Caihong, or Rainbow drone, as well as associated equipment in Saudi Arabia. The CH-4 is comparable to the US armed MQ-9 Reaper drone.
Satellite images released by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and confirmed by US intelligence show that Saudi Arabia has significantly escalated its ballistic missile program with the help of China.
The missile program runs counter to US policy, which sought for decades to ensure that Saudi Arabia had air supremacy in the region so it wouldn’t seek to bypass the US to upgrade its missile capabilities.
The program, which started in the late 1980s with Saudi Arabia’s first clandestine missile purchases from China, suggests that the kingdom, uncertain about the reliability of the US, is hedging its bets.
Saudi development of a ballistic missile capability significantly dims any prospect of Iran’s agreeing to limit its missile program – a key demand put forward by the Trump administration.
In 2017, Saudi Arabia signed a nuclear energy cooperation agreement with China that included a feasibility study for the construction of high-temperature gas-cooled (HTGR) nuclear power plants in the kingdom as well as cooperation in intellectual property and the development of a domestic industrial supply chain for HTGRs built in Saudi Arabia.
The HTGR agreement built on an accord signed in 2012 that involved maintenance and development of nuclear power plants and research reactors, as well as the provision of Chinese nuclear fuel.
The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) warned at the time that the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement had “not eliminated the kingdom’s desire for nuclear weapons capabilities and even nuclear weapons.”
The Trump administration, eager to corner a deal for the acquisition of designs for nuclear power plants, a contract valued at up to $80 billion depending on how many Saudi Arabia ultimately decides to build, has approved several nuclear technology transfers to the kingdom.
It has also approved licenses for six US firms to sell atomic power technology to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is nearing completion of its first atomic reactor in the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology near Riyadh.
A signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Saudi Arabia has ignored calls by the IAEA to implement proportionate safeguards and an inspection regime that would ensure that it does not move toward development of a nuclear military capability.
“Saudi Arabia is currently subject to less intrusive monitoring by international inspectors because Riyadh concluded what is known as a small quantities protocol with the agency. The small quantities protocol was designed to simplify safeguards for states with minimal or no nuclear material, but it is no longer adequate for Saudi Arabia’s expanding nuclear program,” Kelsey Davenport, director of Non-proliferation Policy at the Arms Control Association, told Middle East Eye.
Ms. Davenport warned that “given these factors, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned that Saudi Arabia is seeking to develop the technical capabilities that would allow Riyadh to quickly pursue nuclear weapons if the political decision were made to do so.”
Dr. James M. Dorsey, a non-resident Senior Associate at the BESA Center, is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture.
It’s OK, he says he doesn’t want to do it | Omer Messinger/SIPA USA/PA Images. All right reserved
25 July 2019
This week’s White House visit by Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, was a step towards ending the 18-year war between the Taliban and the US. The diplomacy was overshadowed, however, by President Trump’s remarkable assertion that the US could end that war in a matter of days. As he put it:
Reinforcing the comment, he added:
For a number of commentators, this had to mean the use of nuclear weapons, a prospect that seems incredible with the Cold War era now thirty years in the past.
In reality, though, it is not so far-fetched. The idea of fighting ‘small nuclear wars in far-off places’ has been a feature of US nuclear planning for well over half a century. This is also true for the UK: go back to the end of the 1950s, when Britain first developed its own nuclear weapons, and you will find open reference to using tactical nuclear weapons in a possible conflict with China.
One of the very early columns in this series, published in 2002, covered this ‘small nuclear wars’ issue. Soon after the end of the Cold War, it noted, there were studies about the potential value of small nuclear weapons in conflicts that might fall well short of world-wide war.
Back in 1991 the US Strategic Air Command had commissioned one such study, which became known as the Reed Report. The final version was toned down, but the leak of a draft gave some indication of the line of thinking. As I wrote then:
… it stated the belief that the growing wealth of petro-nations and newly hegemonic powers is available to bullies and crazies, if they gain control, to wreak havoc on world tranquillity. The study itself called for a new nuclear targeting strategy that would include the ability to assemble a Nuclear Expeditionary Force…primarily for use against China or Third World targets.
This period also saw US weapons laboratories working on designs for small nuclear warheads. Some of the thinking behind this was revealed in a paper that two staff members of the Los Alamos laboratory wrote for Strategic Review, titled ‘Countering the Threat of the Well-Armed Tyrant: A Modest Proposal for Small Nuclear Weapons’.
This work was curbed after the election of Bill Clinton as US president in 1992, only to come back centre stage when George W. Bush succeeded him eight years later. To quote my 2002 openDemocracy piece:
When Bush came to power, he brought with him very hard-line security advisers, some of whom had worked in think-tanks that had been diligently investigating new nuclear strategies that were uncannily like those of the early 1990s. Once in power, they were given their head, with the results that have been reported so widely this week.
What has surprised most people is the apparent willingness to consider using nuclear weapons first, using them on a small scale, and doing so on the assumption that this is a reasonable component of an international security policy.
Eight years later the new Obama administration downgraded this approach once again, only for it to re-emerge with Trump’s presidency. Just last month the US Joint Chiefs of Staff published the latest thinking on nuclear strategy in a paper called ‘Nuclear Options’, which showed that the possibility of using nuclear weapons on a ‘small’ scale was once more on the agenda. In the view of the Joint Chiefs:
Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability. Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.
Not surprisingly, this caused plenty of comment and the Pentagon took the document off the open web within a few days. Before that, though, the Federation of American Scientists had downloaded it and posted it on its own site, so it remains freely available.
At the root of the approach is the belief that small-scale use of very powerful weapons could end a conflict on US terms. It fits with the long-standing NATO policy of flexible response – although that policy envisaged the first step in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union in terms of ‘demonstration shots’, intended not to kill millions but to shock Moscow into holding back from a conventional attack. The ‘Nuclear Operations’ view is much more one of ending a war in a more Trumpian manner.
There is history to this, too, which dates back to the years after the first Iraq war in 1991. After that war it became clear that Iraq had developed a limited but potentially potent force of chemical and biological weapons. One result of this was a development in US nuclear thinking illustrated by the ‘Global 95’ wargaming exercise. conducted under carefully controlled conditions at the US Naval War College. As an Oxford Research Group briefing a couple of years ago reported, it had been:
… a ‘twin crisis’ exercise centred on Korea and the Persian Gulf. Within the terms of the exercise both crises escalated to the use of chemical weapons against US forces, but a resurgent Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq went further, using biological weapons to devastating effect against US military forces and Saudi civilians. The United States responded with a nuclear attack on Baghdad, ending the war. The wargame was reported in the US military journal Defense News ([Theresa Hitchens ‘Wargame finds US short in biowar’] 28 August 1995), as raising a number of critical issues:
“The United States has virtually no response to the use of such potentially devastating weapons other than threatening to use nuclear weapons, a Joint Staff official said Aug. 22. But it is unclear whether even nuclear weapons would provide a deterrent, unless the US was willing to take the difficult moral step of destroying a city, he said. On the other hand, if the United States did launch a nuclear attack in response, ‘no country would use those weapons for the next 100 years’ the official said.”
Replace Iraq with Iran or Afghanistan and it all comes a bit too close to home, but there is another element to this. If the US did kill millions in a small nuclear war it would not prevent any further nuclear attacks for a hundred years, as Theresa Hitchens argued. The new certainty would be the direct opposite: any such US nuclear use would prompt clandestine attacks on US cities within a few years at most.
This all seems more like Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Dr. Strangelove’ than the world of today. But the very attitude is not many miles away from that of Donald Trump and, far more worryingly, fits in uncomfortably with official US nuclear strategy as illustrated by ‘Nuclear Operations’.
“The presence of foreign forces does not only contribute to the security of the region, it is also the main cause of tensions,” Rouhani said, according to Mehr News.
Oman and Iran are discussing bilateral relations, according to both Iranian media and Omani media. Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said of Oman conveyed his greetings to the Iranian leader via the foreign minister. While both countries want to ensure the security of the region, they differ in their approach. Oman hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year for a visit, and has generally appeared open to regional discussions with Israel, even as it also wants closer bilateral relations with Iran. Oman is thus a kind of bridge between tensions in the Middle East.
HMS Duncan has joined frigate HMS Montrose to escort vessels sailing under the British flag through the Strait of Hormuz.
HMS Montrose has so far accompanied 35 vessels through the strait, according to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the UK continued to push for a diplomatic resolution to the situation.
He said: “Freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz is vital not just to the UK, but also our international partners and allies.
“Merchant ships must be free to travel lawfully and trade safely, anywhere in the world.”
Mr Wallace added the Royal Navy will continue to provide a safeguard for UK vessels “until this is the reality”.
HMS Duncan is a Type 45 Destroyer which the Royal Navy describes as “among the most advanced warships ever built”.
Why have tensions escalated?
In response, Tehran threatened to capture a British oil tanker.
A second British-linked tanker, the MV Mesdar, was also boarded by armed guards but was released.
Tehran said the Stena Impero was “violating international maritime rules”.
HMS Montrose was alerted but it was too far away to stop the seizure.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency said the tanker was captured after it collided with a fishing boat and failed to respond to calls from the smaller craft.
But the then foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was seized in Omani waters in “clear contravention of international law” and then forced to sail into Iran.
The tanker’s Swedish owners, Stena Bulk, said it had been complying with regulations and had been in international waters.
Stena Bulk said the 23 crew members, who are Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino, are in good health and have met with officials from their respective countries.
How has the UK reacted?
But he insisted: “Our priority continues to be to find a way to de-escalate the situation.”
Speaking to the BBC, former Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith described the UK-flagged ship’s capture as a “major failure” by the UK.
The then defence minister Tobias Ellwood told Sky News “it is impossible simply to escort each individual vessel”.
What has Iran said?
He said Iran guarantees the security of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, and insisted its action were to “uphold international maritime rules”.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has indicated the Stena Imepero could be released if the UK returns the Grace 1.
In a statement on his website he said: “We are not going to continue tensions with some European countries and if they are committed to international frameworks and abandon some actions, including what they did in Gibraltar, they will receive a proper response from Iran”.
Secretary General Guterres urges Jerusalem to end excessive use of force, calls on Palestinian groups to stop encouraging kids to participate in violence
By TOI staff27 Jul 2019, 7:31 pm
A UN report released Friday said that in 2018 Israel killed 56 Palestinian children — the largest number since Israel and Hamas fought a war in the Gaza Strip in 2014.
In the report to the Security Council, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Israeli troops injured nearly 2,700 children “in the context of demonstrations, clashes and search and arrest operations,” according to Reuters.
Meanwhile six Israeli children were injured in incidents relating to the conflict.
The UN chief called on Israel “to immediately put in place preventive and protective measures to end the excessive use of force” and “all Palestinian actors to refrain from encouraging children’s participation in violence.”
The report also singled out Afghanistan, with 3,062 children killed or injured; Syria, where “air strikes, barrel bombs and cluster munitions resulted in 1,854 child casualties”; and Yemen, where the fighting between Saudi Arabian-led forces and Iran-backed Houthi rebels caused over 1,100 child casualties.
Palestinian protestors place their national flag on a metal structure during a demonstration on the beach near the maritime border with Israel, in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 8, 2018. (Said KHATIB / AFP)
The likely reason for the high number of Palestinian child casualties in 2018 are the weekly border protests in the Gaza Strip which began in March 2018 and continue to this day, though they have recently been tempered by a reported ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas.
Israel says the Hamas terror group has used the violence as cover for attacks on troops. The protests, encouraged by Hamas, have consistently included rioting, with Palestinians burning tires and attacking Israeli soldiers with rocks, hand grenades and bombs. Protesters regularly attempt to sabotage and breach the border fence.
Demonstrators have also adopted the tactic of launching incendiary balloons into Israel, burning thousands of acres of forestry and farmlands.
Hamas also formed units tasked with sustaining tensions along the border fence with riots during nighttime and early morning hours.
Palestinian demonstrators throw stones at Israeli security forces during protests along the border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on July 12, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
Earlier this year the Israeli army said Hamas operatives had been heard on loudspeakers promising children at the border NIS 300 ($83) if they get injured at the protests.
Israeli troops regularly respond to the violence with less-lethal means such as tear gas and rubber bullets, but do use live fire in some cases. Some 200 Palestinians have been killed since the protests began, and thousands have been injured.
The international community has criticized Hamas for endangering innocents at the demonstrations, but has also accused Israel of disproportionate force against unarmed protesters.